Along with my other food preservation adventures over the past year, I've done a bit of experimenting with alcohol preservation. I've preserved Calamondine limes in brandy, candied Calamondine limes in Merlot, steeped homemade orange and lemon extracts, and made delicious limoncello and intense ginger liqueur. Alcohol is an easy way to preserve food, the results are tasty, and the uses versatile. Liqueurs can be sipped before or after dinner, used as glaze on roasted vegetables (or meat, for those so inclined), added to soups and dressings, mixed into bread and cake batters, or drizzled over the top of desserts such as cake and ice cream. Serving homemade liqueurs to your guests is a sure way to impress without blowing your budget.
You might think with this glowing review that I'm a raging alcoholic. Hardly. We drink very rarely here, actually, but do enjoy a sip of limoncello every month or so. And I'm just beginning to experiment with using the liqueurs in cooking and baking.
How did I get started on this crazy adventure? I suppose the real beginning was many years ago when I made my own vanilla extract from vanilla beans steeped in vodka. That's as far as I went for years, although I often considered making my own coffee liqueur (but never got around to it). Sometime last year, I stumbled across this interesting book in the used bookstore. It intrigued me and I began more serious experimenting. Then in May, I noticed a link to a Danish Schnapps recipe site that was filled with intriguing recipes. Here are two of my latest boozy adventures.
Remember the summer splurge on cherries and berries? I put some of those cherries in a quart jar, poured a whole bunch of sugar over them, and then filled the jar with vodka to make Cherry Wishniak. That has been sitting in my closet, relatively undisturbed, until today when I took this picture. I'll be straining it and putting it in a pretty bottle. I've already dipped into the jar a couple of times for different recipes. A tablespoon added to some homemade soy ice cream last week was divine.
As an added bonus, the book has suggestions for limiting waste. You know how I hate wasting food. Well, after straining the cherry liqueur, I can save the cherry meat in a crock. (The recipe says the cherry meat will be dissolved after the 3 month steeping, but it is not. It's still quite firm.) I just need to add a little sugar and a little vodka, and keep it in the refrigerator. Any time I strain fruit from making a liqueur, I can add it to this crock with a little more sugar and vodka. This can be added to cakes, puddings, and ice cream.
Another recent experiment with making liqueur involved the chunky bits of the pomegranate seeds leftover after juicing them for jelly, drying them and sifting them for anadana (an Indian spice). I filled a quart jar half-full with those chunky dried bits of seed and covered them with vodka to steep for a while. While retrieving the Wishniak today, I saw that the vodka had turned pink in the pomegranate jar.
I strained the ground seeds through a permanent gold coffee filter. The resulting liquid is cloudy so I'm going to let it sit for a couple of days until I can carefully pour off the clear liquid. Then I'll add a sugar syrup made with twice as much sugar as water. The book recommends using 1 part sugar syrup to 3 parts flavored vodka. Then the liqueur is set back in the dark closet to age for a week or two. (Waste avoidance tip: save cloudy "sludge" left at the bottom of the bottle for cooking.)
Yes, making liqueurs requires patience. It is, however, a fun and useful way to preserve food. Liqueurs can be made with fruit, nuts, herbs, and spices right from your own garden. You can start with given recipes and then branch out into experimenting with your own combinations. And, like other home preserved food, they make lovely Christmas gifts. You still have time for this holiday season if you start now.
Bonus tip: The adventurous might try making their own vodka, too.